Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Indy Indy Indy

An interesting question has surfaced as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard:

Just where does Indianapolis fit in NASCAR lore?

Depending on who you talk to, the 400-mile race at Indy is NASCAR's second-biggest race behind the Daytona 500. Others will tell you it's actually bigger than the February tradition. Others still will shrug their shoulders and call it just another race.

Something tells me Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart would disagree with that last one.

While I can't offer the definitive answer, I can offer my own perspective. Growing up, I was more of an open-wheel fan than a NASCAR fan. To me, I loved the sleek look of the Indy cars -- I loved how they almost looked like spaceships, and I loved how fast they were. Stock cars looked too much like the kind of thing I'd see on the streets, and they weren't as fast.

But more than anything, I loved Indy cars because of Indianapolis.

My father didn't do much with me, but one of the things he did was instill in me a love and respect for the history and tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From that, I came to respect Indy as the most hallowed ground in all of American motorsports, and as a child, my credo was simple: if you don't race at Indianapolis, you don't matter.

Which meant that, until 1994, I paid little attention to NASCAR. Hard to believe, as much as I love the sport now, but that was the way I felt. No Indy, no interest.

But whereas other traditionalists were up in arms when Tony George announced NASCAR would invade the Brickyard in August 1994, I sat up with interest. Could it be that this form of auto racing I mocked and despised was finally growing up? Coming out with the big boys and firing up the engines on the only race track that truly mattered?

When Rick Mast led that 43-car field to the green flag, I watched my first full NASCAR race. All the way through, and I loved every minute of it. Before that race, if I had been pressured to choose a NASCAR driver I liked, I would've chosen Rusty Wallace -- mostly because that was who my mother liked, and I wasn't about to root for Dad's favorite, Dale Earnhardt.

But after the inaugural Brickyard 400, I became a Jeff Gordon fan. I didn't care that he drove a rainbow car, and I didn't care that he wasn't from the South -- I would never be considered an old-school NASCAR fan. All that mattered to me was that Gordon had talent and won the first stock car race on the world's most important track.

Then, an odd thing happened: I watched the following weekend's NASCAR race, and then another, and then another. Soon, I came to appreciate Daytona and Bristol nearly as much as I appreciated Indy, and I often slapped myself for missing out on a brand of racing that was, frankly, better than the joke open-wheel racing had become.

For me, NASCAR's 400-mile visit to the Yard of Bricks is less about the race and more about the atmosphere and what that track means -- not just to open-wheel racing, but all of motorsports. Daytona will always be the top dog for NASCAR, as well it should be, but Indianapolis is a close second.

I know a lot of people will call the racing at the Brickyard boring, and they're not necessarily wrong. But every time the boring argument fires up, I counter with television's at-times lackluster coverage -- and the fact that Ned Jarrett once won a race at Darlington in the 1970s by lapping the field eight times.

Try staying awake through that one.

The Brickyard got me into NASCAR, and for that reason alone, I will always love that track and get excited whenever the series visits. I even watched Formula One races at Indy, in spite of my distaste for that style of "racing," and I think it's a huge mistake for that series to not be returning. You can't call yourself the premiere form of motorsports in the world if you won't even visit one of the world's most prestigious tracks.

I don't know who's going to win this weekend, and I don't really care. For me, this isn't about the drivers or the cars, but the race track. And even though I can't be there in person, I'll be glued to the TV on Sunday.

Because it's Indy.

Cat Fight

By now I'm sure you've seen the video from Mid-Ohio this past weekend, where IndyCar Series drivers Danica Patrick and Milka Duno got into a shouting match after a practice session. Patrick felt the slower Duno should've let her by, rather than forcing the issue, and wanted to discuss the situation with the Brazilian model-turned-driver.

What Patrick got instead was a tongue-lashing and a towel thrown in her face. Not once, but twice. Not sure if this is what Duno had in mind in terms of making a name for herself in racing, but it worked nonetheless.

In terms of who I side with on the argument itself, I side with Patrick. Duno was clearly slower -- as she has been her entire IndyCar career -- and Patrick felt she didn't need to be pressured so hard in the corner during a practice session.

To paraphrase Allen Iverson: Not a race, not a race. Not a race. We talkin' 'bout practice.

For the three of you interested, Duno sits 25th in the IRL standings, 355 behind leader Scott Dixon. Patrick, meanwhile, sits sixth in points with a win and one of the largest fan bases in the IndyCar Series.

In a lot of ways, this fued would be a lot like what might happen if Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into it with Patrick Carpentier. Amusing for a time, but ultimately useless.

Instead of lashing out at Patrick for trying to talk to her, Duno needs to concern herself with trying not to be so slow. She's practically nothing more than a field-filler, someone taking advantage of a door opened to her by Patrick's popularity and isn't really doing anything with it. While Patrick has a win to her name and is driving for one of the IRL's most successful teams, Duno's driving for IndyCar's equivalent to Haas/CNC.

Which makes her about as relevant as Anna Kournikova on the tennis court.

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